Damming the Teesta( Pun Intended)

The Teesta is now the focus of builders of dams. Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal are the proposed sites of a large number of dams which will, if all goes well generate a large amount of electricity. Several of these dams are already in the process of being built and the hillsides are already being torn apart to accommodate these leviatans.
This had already proved to be controversial as the Llepchas in Sikkim are vigorously opposing the project and have been on hunger strike to prevent the project from drowning their ancestral lands and desecrating their sacred forests.
These issues are very important. It has been estimated that since independence, at least 5 million people have been displaced by the large dam projects. Most of them were tribals who have traditionally been voiceless in the power dispensation. It is not a coincidence that these areas where the tribals have been deprived of their land and even more important, their identity that are racked with Naxalite violence today. It is not that this is unknown. Our then President, Mr R K Naraynan pointed out in 2001 in his Republic Day speech that “Let it not be said by future generations that the Indian Republic was built on the destruction of the green earth and innocent tribals who have been living there for centuries.” Unfortunately his words fell on deaf years and the New Indian Dream seems to be based on the mad destruction of natural resources in order to gratify a crazy desire to beat the West at its own game of conspicuous and unsustainable consumption.
The Teesta has already been dammed at Gajodoba in the Jalapiguri district. The so called fruits of the project have been much less that were projected when the barrage as built. There is a plan, harebrained according to most experts, to build a series of dams in North Sikkim, thereby destroying for ever the beauty of the pristine forests of Sikkim and taming the Teesta which is the lifeblood of the state and the source of many legends which are part of the Lepcha culture.
Valid questions have been raised about the ability of the fragile mountain environment to sustain these huge dams, and about its effect on the livelihood and way of life of the people inhabiting these lands. None have been answered satisfactorily. As anybody who has visited Sikkim in recent times will testify, the dam being built near the Pagla Jhora about a kilometer upstream from Sevoke bridge has caused a great increase in the landslides in the area and in 2007 the road to Sikkim was shut down for long stretches of time as the mountains protested the rape of its forests and rivers. As all who live in Jalpaiguri district can testify the river brings down large amounts of silt during the monsoons and it is likely that when the dams are built, this silt will fill the reservoirs, reducing their capacity, flooding the countryside and defeating their purpose. But by the time the engineers admit this, the damage will already have been done and the planners would be thinking up some more schemes to link the Brahmaputra with the Indus or some such what thing.
It is time that the younger generation spoke up and stopped this mad destruction. After all they will live with the effects of the damage. It is easier to live with a small power shortage rather than destroy an entire environment spawning environment refugees who will, no doubt turn to violence once they realize that they have been deprived of home and hearth so that city dwellers hundreds of miles away can use their air conditioners freely.
It is another matter that the calculations about the energy generation have been consistently proved to be false. No big dam project has ever produce electricity except at a fraction of their original estimate. But his has never fazed the planners. A large dam means all round bribes, the Chief Minister downwards. In the initial years of independent India, the large projects were commissioned because the then policy makers genuinely believed that this was the answer to India’s problems. Today with the knowledge that big dams are disastrous, expensive and unworkable, we still plan for them simply to fill the pockets of those that matter. The only way that this will stop is when enough of us get together and say NO!


Swapan Kumar Sen said…
I am one of the few living eye-witnesses who were present on the embankment at Domohani on 3/10/1968, when the Teesta breached the embankments on both the sides after the water-level rose above the tops of the embankments. I was then the Assistant Engineer,in-charge, of Moinaguri Sub-Division, I&WD, Govt. of West Bengal. All our attempts to save the embankments went in vain. The river water started flowing over the embankment right before my eyes at 2 AM of 3/10/1968. None can fight the fury of nature but I hold the opinion that the disaster and loss of lives were partly due to contributions of inadequate and ill-designed waterways between the guide-bunds of the Railway and the Road bridges, which caused huge aflux on both sides of the river at the bridge site. I may be contacted at swapansen@hotmail.com for more detail on this.

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